Podcast explores creating during a year of upheaval


A podcast born out of the pandemic is helping Pitt’s creative community “process” everything that’s happening.

The second season of the Center for Creativity podcast “Processing …” talks to five members of the community about how they are dealing with 2020’s social and political upheavals brought on by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. The opening episode asks, “What does it mean to make creative work when it feels like the world is on fire?”


If the Oakland campus is in Guarded Risk when students return in January, the Center for Creativity plans to reopen the Workshop in the basement of the University Store on Fifth Avenue, which remained closed throughout the fall semester.

“We’ve put a lot of thought into how to do it safely,” said Shannon Fink, operations manager for the Center for Creativity

The projected hours are 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. Other restrictions will include

  • Maximum capacity of 10 users, on a first-come, first-served basis.

  • Two hours or less limit on visits, so as many people as possible can use the space.

  • Some materials/equipment may not be available at certain times due to cleaning protocols.

  • Food or drink will be prohibited

  • Masks must be worn and proper social distancing observed at all times.

The people selected for this season include: Hannah Eko, a graduate from Pitt’s masters of fine arts in writing program; undergraduate student Craig Hayes, who has been involved in several of the center’s open mic nights; Oronde Sharif, a lecturer in the Department of Africana Studies; Ivette Spradlin, an instructor in the Studio Arts department, and Tahirah Walker, a poet, artist and former staff member in the Center for Teaching and Learning.

The first season of the podcast, which premiered in the spring, focused on a single person at a time, in one-on-one interviews with someone from the Center for Creativity.

“This season we wanted to sort of take a risk and try something new and change up the format, a little bit,” said Erik Schuckers, manager of communications and programming for the Center for Creativity who also writes the scripts for the podcast.

For the second season, which will conclude before the winter break, the five subjects were asked similar questions and then the interviews were studied to find common themes to organize the five episodes.

“We started finding, they’re making stuff out of things they have in their house or they’re all struggling with this idea of not being around other people and that all felt like, well, we were all going through that,” said Shannon Fink, narrator of the podcast and operations manager at the Center for Creativity. “That’s just the narrative everybody’s hearing right now, so can we go deeper than that. And when we started looking at it, we realized that we’re all going through kind of a grief cycle. … Everything’s weird, and this new normal is just so strange. We’re all waiting and trying to get through this.”

They found all five people had dealt with denial about what was happening, anger about both the pandemic and political upheaval and not being able to do anything about it, and finally persevering.

“It felt like a nice way to kind of loosely tie it all together without committing to talking about the grief cycle,” Fink said.

Schuckers said one of the things he’s learned through creating the podcast is to let go of “perfection.”

“I think that on any creative project … you could spend an endless amount of time polishing and changing and trying to make it perfect,” he said. “But if the pandemic and the social justice protests have sort of taught us anything, I think, is that getting work out there that has the possibility to reach people and touch them and change them in some way is way more important than getting it to some mythical state of perfection.”

The team putting the podcast together also had to get creative about how to produce it while they were all working remotely. Center for Creativity assistants Chad Brown and Mike Campbell did the sound editing; Jasmine Green helped set up the interviews and do program notes; and Nancy Kirkwood, who had experience with radio shows from working on WESA’s “Prosody” program for writers and poets, helped research guests and come up with questions.

“We do a lot of Zoom meetings. … We do a lot of our work on (Microsoft) Teams,” Schuckers said. “We have a channel and files there that we can share and upload and edit and pass around among each other. We’re finding a way to make it work remotely that is pretty effective for us.”

“I actually almost think it’s easier than trying to work on it all in the same place,” Fink said. “We’re all available at various times to talk about whatever, so that chat function in Teams has really comes in handy.”

They hope to continue the podcasts in the spring and even when everyone is back on campus. “It does take a lot of effort. And we’re getting a better strategy for approaching it so it takes less time than it did in the beginning,” Fink said. “We’re finding ways to make it sustainable even when we go back to campus because we’re finding that it’s such a good tool to connect with just everyone at Pitt in that creative community.”

“I think we all really love doing it, and we’re committed to the idea of it,” Schuckers said.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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